Originally created 09/29/03

Victory Tower getting new look, 'scary' training ritual remains same



FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- The Army's rawest recruits will have to conquer their fears and a massive fortress of steel when they begin training on a new, 70-foot Victory Tower nearing completion here.

But the training ritual, which requires them to rappel down a 40-foot wall, swing from rope bridges and crawl commando-style down cargo nets, essentially will remain the same, commanders say.

The old tower, now 27, was built with nails and wooden poles. Tie lines, support wires and constant inspections have kept it in service despite its age.

Col. Tom Heaney, who commands the 6,000 to 7,000 soldiers training at Fort Jackson at any given time, said the new tower will offer the same challenge to body and spirit as the old.

"We know it's not normal to fall off a 40-foot wall," Heaney said. "They have to overcome their fear and work as a team. They have to encourage one another."

The new tower is built with steel beams, making it sturdy and easy to maintain.

It is expected to be completed the first week of November, said Capt. Robert Baker, who is in charge of maintaining the training sites.

The new tower adds a staircase up the center of the structure. It also has a roof to protect the drill sergeants who must stay on the platform for hours at a time to guide the recruits.

All soldiers must complete each section of the obstacle course in order to graduate from basic training.

"Once in a while, we'll have one freeze up at the top, but 99 percent make it down - one way or another," said Baker.

Reactions from several soldiers who'd just completed their first-ever climb or swing from the old tower were positive.

"It was exhilarating, " said Pvt. Tom Krokoski, 22, of Roseburg, Ore. "It was really exciting and scary at the same time."

"It's very challenging," said Pvt. Stephanie Cisneros, 18, of Freeport, Texas. "I never thought - I know my brothers never thought - that I could do this."

Pvt. Keith Starks, 22, of Appleton, Wis., called the experience "more mental than physical."

"You have to overcome your fear of heights and find out whether you can do what you didn't think you could do," he said.

Capt. Joe Jennings, in charge of the company of 180 soldiers going through the course, squinted upward to check on his charges' progress.

"We don't let them mess around, like if they were in college," he said, noting their serious demeanor.

Jennings, an Army Ranger and member of Special Forces, just returned from Assamawa, Iraq. The Los Angeles native said he asked to come home and train soldiers because he knows many will end up in Afghanistan or Iraq.

"I don't want them making any wrong turns out there," he said, referring to the incident in which former Army Pvt. Jessica Lynch's convoy became lost and was ambushed near the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. Eleven soldiers were killed and Lynch, a supply clerk, was severely injured.

"I want them to know what they are doing," Jennings said.